by Joel Rieves
The strange craft careened across the sky, dipping and diving as if piloted by someone under the influence. It came in low over a rather decrepit barn and pulled up into a steep climb, the turbulence of its passage blowing several sheets of tin off the structure’s roof. It continued into an inside loop, but the pilot didn’t pull up soon enough at the bottom of the circuit and clipped the tops of several trees. The craft, though obviously built to navigate the farthest reaches of outer space, seemed to handle Earth’s atmosphere and gravity well enough—along with the trees it had just clipped, but the low ridge those trees concealed was a different matter. The leading edge of the saucer-shaped vessel dug into the ground and flipped, end over end, completing one full rotation in the air and sliding to a stop a few hundred yards beyond the crest of the rise. Everything was still for a moment. Then a hatch opened, and a head popped out. It was smooth and grayish green, with large dark eyes and wearing a tattered, camouflage John Deere cap. A pair of hands grasped the rim of the hatch opening and the owner of the head pulled itself up and onto the deck of the ship. It was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off and nothing else. The alien creature tried to walk to the edge but staggered as if drunk and fell to the ground. It lay there for a second before letting out a loud whoop and laughing hysterically. Two humans emerged from the hatch, one wearing jeans and a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, the other in a shimmery gray jumpsuit that did not fit. It was stretched tight over the man’s stomach and the sleeves and legs were too long. The first man had spiked brown hair with frosted tips, while the other sported a long, blonde mullet and a wispy Amish-like beard. The two rednecks dropped to the ground on either side of the alien and, giggling drunkenly, helped him up. Just then, a strange noise emanated from inside the craft and three beers flew out of the hatch in quick succession. They were easily caught by the alien, who handed one each to its companions. It pulled the tab on the third and drained it in one long gulp. It stood there for a moment before letting out a massive belch. Then, in a perfect Southern accent, it said to the man with the mullet, “God damn, DeeRay. You can’t drive for shit!”
The evening had started like many other Friday nights: with a case of Budweiser on the deck of Billy Blankenship’s mobile home. He sat there, drinking beer and waiting on DeeRay Thompson, his best friend since first grade. It’s been one hell of a week, he thought. Work sucked, and Lisa won’t stop squeezing me for more child support. I just want to get mellow, look at the stars and turn off my brain for a few hours.
A few minutes later, he heard the sound of a barely muffled V-8 engine approaching. It slowed as it neared his driveway. Then came the crunch of car tires on gravel, followed by a door slamming. A minute later, DeeRay came around the corner of the trailer and mounted the steps of the deck. He lowered himself into a chair and said, “S’up dude.”
“Not a damn thing,” Billy answered and shifted the cooler full of beer around to DeeRay, who reached in and pulled out the famous red and white can. He popped the top and drank
“Oh, that’s good,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You get the ganja?” Billy asked.
“You know I did,” his friend shot back, pulling a plastic bag out of pants.
“Dude!” Billy said. “Why you got to keep in your drawers like that?”
“The two most important things I got are my stash and my nuts. It’s easier to keep ‘em safe if I keep ‘em together.”
“Well, it’s nasty,” Billy said, shaking his head.
“You don’t want none?”
“I didn’t say that.”
DeeRay laughed. “Where’s the bong?”
“Broke. You’ll have to roll us one.”
“All right. You got papers?”
“On the table, right beside you.”
“Oh, yeah.” DeeRay pulled a thin paper out of the pack and began assembling the joint. He might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, Billy thought, but the boy can roll a doob tight as Marlboro. In fact, DeeRay, who had an IQ that hovered only slightly above the “moron” level (he had graduated from high school as much because everyone there wanted to get rid of him as any academic achievement), was an idiot savant when it came to drugs. He could estimate the weight of product within a gram and knew instinctively how much of any drug it would take to get you buzzed, blazed, or blitzed. Most importantly, he could tell you the best possible substance to achieve the desired effect and where to get it. DeeRay finished the jimmy and handed it over.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Billy said as he fished a lighter out of his pocket. He lit the joint and took a deep drag, holding it for a few seconds before exhaling. He handed it back to DeeRay, who followed suit. It went back and forth several times before Billy said, “What the hell is this shit? I ain’t feeling nothing and we done smoked half this damn blunt.”
DeeRay took a hit and held it, saying, “I think it’s some of that Injun weed.” He exhaled.
“Injun weed?” Billy said, taking the proffered spliff. “What the hell is that?”
“It creeps up on you,” DeeRay said as his friend took a drag off the joint. “You know, like underwear.”
That caught Billy off guard and his laughter quickly dissolved into a coughing fit. After he composed himself, Billy passed the joint and sat back. He was about to curse DeeRay for making him waste smoke when the buzz he’d been chasing settled down over his head and shoulders like warm blanket. He sighed contentedly and closed his eyes, letting it take him over completely.
He’d sat there for a few seconds, soaking in the high, when he began to feel odd. He tingled all over and the hair on his arms stood on end. Shit, he thought, I ain’t never had no weed that did this.
Then, he heard DeeRay say, “Um, Billy?”
“Does everything look green or am I just really stoned?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Billy opened his eyes. “Oh shit.” He looked around. “I think we both might be really stoned because everything looks green to me, too.” He paused. “DeeRay, do you feel all tingly and shit?”
“Yeah,” his friend said. “You reckon it’s the weed?”
He was about to say, “What else could it be?” when a sound came from overhead. Together, they looked up at the bottom of the strange, round craft that was the source of the green incandescence that bathed them. When he looked down, he realized they were no longer sitting on the deck. They were level with the roof of his mobile home and rising. The excited “Fuck!” that slipped from his lips made DeeRay look down.
“Son of bitch,” the other man yelled and would have fallen out of his chair except for the force that somehow held them in their seats. As they looked back up, the bottom of the craft irised open and accepted them inside. It closed silently, and their chairs settled softly to the floor. Billy tried to stand, but found he was still held in place. He looked at DeeRay and realized his friend was terrified. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. Slowly, DeeRay’s hand came up and pointed. Billy turned his head and saw two beings. They were tall and impossibly slender, with grayish-green skin and large black eyes. One of them waved and said, “Hey y’all.” That proved to be more than more he could process, and he passed out.
“Hey man, wake up.” Billy felt DeeRay shaking him. Son of a bitch, he thought. That wasn’t just weed, making me hallucinate like that. When I get my shit together, I’m kicking DeeRay’s ass, giving me some shit like that and not telling me. Then, he opened his eyes and saw the two aliens standing just behind his friend.
“Fuck!” he shouted and recoiled.
“Calm down, man. It’s cool,” DeeRay told him.
“Cool, hell!” he answered. “They probably want to probe us or something.”
One of aliens threw up its hands and said, “God damn it, here we go with the probing shit again. Why do all these stupid bastards think we’re pervs?”
The other, who was taller and thinner than its counterpart, shrugged and said, “Eh, probably Yrchltch’s been here. You know how kinky they are. Probing humans would be right up their alley.”
Billy realized that, not only were the creatures speaking English, they sounded like they’d grown up just down the road from him. “Wha– h— how can you two talk like that?”
“What, we’re not just pervs, we’re idiots, too?” the first one snapped. “That’s fucking nice.”
The other calmed its friend, saying, “Chill, man. Just chill.” It turned to Billy, “Languages are kind of our thing. Well, that and culture and shit. We’re what you guys would call ‘xenoanthropologists’.”
“Huh?” the two humans said in unison.
The first alien shook its head and said, “Fucking dumb asses.”
Its partner said, “A xenoanthropologist is someone who studies alien cultures. We’ve been studying Earth for a good while and we thought it would be interesting to meet some humans up close.” He smiled and the effect was oddly soothing to Billy. “And,” it continued, “We’d like you to do something for us.”
Billy was puzzled. What could he and DeeRay do for these vastly more advanced beings from another world? Only one way to find out, he thought. “What’s that?”
The friendlier one said, “Teach us how to be rednecks.”
Billy shook his head. “What?” he said.
The more belligerent of the pair said, “Are you stupid?” Then, very slowly, it said, “We. Want. You. To. Teach. Us. How. To. Be. Red. Necks.”
“Right,” Billy drawled. He stood there for a moment, his brow furrowing as he tried to get his head around the situation. “Why do y’all want to be rednecks?”
The taller alien said, “Like I told you a minute ago, we’ve been studying humans for a while now. And, we both find redneck culture fascinating. We’ve tried to be rednecks on our own, but it just doesn’t…feel right. You know?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Billy looked at DeeRay, and said, “What do you think?”
“Why not?” his friend said with a shrug. “Shit, this could be fun.”
Billy considered it for a moment longer. DeeRay had always been the more adventurous of the pair and, while his ideas often landed them in some sort of trouble, they were always a good time. “What the hell,” he said finally. “Where you reckon we ought to start?”
“I’m thinking names,” he said. “I’m DeeRay and this is Billy. What about y’all?”
The friendly alien said, “I’m Argbltchyl and he’s Yglchtm.”
“Well, that ain’t gonna fly,” Billy said. “We can’t get our mouth around that shit.”
DeeRay nodded. He thought for a minute and pointed at Argbltchyl saying, “We’ll call you Artie.” He looked at Yglchtm, “And, you? You’re Eddie.”
Artie agreed enthusiastically, Eddie less so. But, after a moment, he nodded.
Billy reached in the cooler and took out a beer. “What next?” he asked DeeRay.
His friend thought for a second before saying, “I don’t know. But I think better with a beer in my hand.” He looked around. “Slide that cooler over here.”
“All right,” Billy said. He looked at the aliens, “Y’all ever had a beer?”
“Beer?” asked Eddie. “Is that the liquid made from malted grain and the perennial, herbaceous climbing plant Humulus lupulus?”
Billy blinked and said “Hum– Humal–. What?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what you just said, so I’m gonna ignore it,” DeeRay put in. “This,” he said, reaching down into the cooler and pulling out three cans, “is beer.” He handed one each to the aliens and kept one for himself. “And, it’s nature’s perfect food.”
“Ah,” said Artie. “It provides all the nutrients and calories necessary to sustain life, then.”
“I don’t know about all that,” said DeeRay. “But it tastes good. And, if you drink enough, you’ll get hammered.”
“Hammered?” said Eddie.
“I believe that’s a colloquialism meaning to become intoxicated,” Artie told him.
“What the hell is up with you two?” demanded Billy. “All of sudden, y’all sound like a couple of college professors.”
Artie shrugged. “We kind of are.”
“Yeah,” said Eddie, who was finally beginning to warm up to the two men. “This is a research trip for a — well, I guess you’d call it a paper.”
He looked at the two extraterrestrials, then waved a hand. “Whatever,” he said. “Just stop it, okay? You said you want to be rednecks and rednecks don’t talk like that.” They nodded.
DeeRay took over. “Exactly. Now, let’s get back to the important stuff. See that little tab on top of your beers?” The visitors looked at the cans they held. “Right there,” DeeRay indicated on his beer. The aliens nodded. “Wedge your finger under it and pull up. Like this,” he said and demonstrated. “Now, push it back down.” They did. “Now, for the good part,” he said. “Watch me and do what I do.” He raised the can to his lips and took a long pull. “Oh baby,” he said.
The aliens mimicked him perfectly, even down to the “Oh baby”. They looked at each other and huge grins spread across their faces. “Holy shit, that’s good,” said Eddie.
“I know, right?” DeeRay replied. Before he could say anything else, both aliens turned their beers up and drained them so fast that the cans collapsed.
“Gimme another one,” said Eddie, reaching for the cooler.
Billy stopped him. “Whoa. Slow down there, cowboy. Getting properly wasted is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus, we got plenty of other stuff to teach you and if you get blasted now, you won’t learn shit.” The alien stepped back, disappointment on his face. “Don’t worry, dude. We’ll make sure you get a nice buzz,” Billy assured him. He looked around the control room of the craft. “I think we should start by sprucing up your ride a bit. This fucker’s kind of boring.”
“I know,” DeeRay said. “You ain’t got no flags, no pictures of Willie or Hank or nothing.” Then, “Shit, where we gonna find that kind of thing this time of night?”
Billy thought for a second and then snapped his fingers. “The Walmart over on 50 Highway just went to 24 hours,” he said with a grin.
“Yeah, about that,” Artie said. “Isn’t Walmart kind of a busy place? If we’re seen by a crowd of people and it causes an uproar, it’ll be our asses.”
“Yeah,” Eddie put in. “Our bosses do not want another Roswell.”
The men laughed and Billy said, “Dude, it’s Walmart, after midnight, on a Friday. People expect to see weird shit.”
“But —” Artie started before DeeRay cut him off.
“If anybody does say something about a UFO, everybody’ll just think ‘Another crazy, drunk-ass redneck’ and go on with what they were doing.”
“I don’t know about that,” Eddie said.
Billy shook his head. “Dude, I know my people. Trust me.”
The two aliens looked at each other and shrugged before swinging the saucer around towards Walmart.
“See, it looks better already,” said DeeRay. “And we’ve got tunes,” he said excitedly. The aliens had also figured out a way to access his Spotify account and Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, Ornery, and Mean” came through the ship’s speaker’s.
“It really does, man,” Artie said, as he looked around the room. He was especially taken with the Jack Daniels mirror the boys had found sitting with a pile of trash while making their way to the store. “This is so cool,” he said.
Eddie shook his head and said, “I can’t believe we got away with that,”
“I told you, man,” Billy said. “I just hate you couldn’t come in with us. Shopping at Walmart is a big part of redneck culture You’d have got a ton of information for your paper what with all the crazy-ass folks that was in there tonight.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry,” DeeRay said. “I got pictures of the best ones. It was a real ‘People of Walmart’ scene in there tonight.” The men had shown their new friends the website before they went shopping and the aliens were still enthralled with it. “So, what next?” he asked.
“Hang on second, I got something else for their ship,” Billy said as he pulled something out his pocket and handed it to Eddie.
“What is it?” the being said as he examined the object.
“Something no redneck ride is complete without: truck nuts.”
“Where’d you get those?” DeeRay asked. “They start selling them at Walmart?”
“Well, where’d you get ‘em?”
“Ronnie Bigelow’s truck,” Billy said with a grin.
DeeRay stood there for a moment, puzzled. Then, a lightbulb went off in his brain. “That’s what you were doing when you told me to head on back, you’d catch up?”
“Yeah, well, he was being even more of an asshole than usual in the store. So, I decided he should contribute to the cause.”
Eddie, who was enthralled with his new acquisition, seemed not to have heard a word they said. Artie, on the other hand, was curious. “Who is this Bigelow character?”
“Oh, just a local dickhead that nobody likes,” DeeRay answered. “Him and Billy’s got ‘issues’.”
“Huh?” the alien said. “What do you mean ‘issues’.”
“I mean they hate each other,” DeeRay said.
“Ah,” Artie said. Then, to Billy, “What did this joker do to make you hate him?”
“Mostly, he’s just a mouthy asshole,” Billy replied. “But it don’t help that he’s dating my ex-wife now.”
DeeRay spoke up at that. “Yeah, I don’t get that, man. I mean, you don’t even like Lisa anymore. Why do you give a shit who she dates?”
“Hey, just because I don’t want her no more don’t mean that I should be happy about her hooking up with that motherfucker!” Then, he added. “It’s the principle of the thing, you know?”
“Not really,” DeeRay and Artie said simultaneously. They both broke up laughing.
Billy just rolled his eyes at their antics and then asked DeeRay. “You got the weed on you?”
DeeRay grinned. “And, the papers.” He patted his pants pocket. “Hell, I even got a lighter.”
“Well, roll us one, damn it,” Billy said. “I don’t want to talk about this shit no more. At least, not sober. Besides, I promised these boys a buzz and I aim to deliver.”
Hey, can I fly this thing?” asked DeeRay. After numerous beers and a very large joint, they were all extremely inebriated.
“Fuck yeah,” said Artie. He had exchanged clothing with DeeRay, wearing the human’s shirt and cap while DeeRay had squeezed into the extraterrestrial’s flight suit. “Move over, Ed. Let my boy have a go.” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” began to play and when Ronnie Van Zant said, “Turn it up” in the song’s intro, Artie said, “Damn right,” and cranked the music as loud as it would go.
“Goddamn it, Artie,” Eddie shouted over the din. “Shit’s gonna blow my fucking eardrums out,” he said, turning it down to a more manageable level.
“We ain’t got eardrums, man,” Artie replied.
“Well, theirs, then,” his partner snapped. “Besides, I can’t think when it’s that loud. You know that.”
Eddie, Billy noticed, seemed to be less affected by the intoxicants. The alien started to say something else, then mumbled, “Fuck it,” and grabbed another beer.
Billy watched as Artie instructed his friend in the intricacies of piloting the alien craft. Apparently, there wasn’t much to it, because after a couple of minutes, Artie said, “All right, it’s all yours,” and staggered over to the cooler for another beer. DeeRay did fine at first. Then, Artie started pushing him to try some aerobatics, saying, “Oh, don’t be pussy, DeeRay. Loop it!”
As he stood there beside the downed craft with Artie and DeeRay, drinking and laughing, Billy noticed Eddie was inspecting the damage from hitting the trees and the ridge. He walked over to see if he could help. “How bad is it?”
Eddie reached down and began pulling handfuls of grass and dirt out of an intake and said, “Not too bad, so far.” He tossed a pine branch to the side. “These things are built tough so dumb asses like Artie can’t tear ‘em up.” He stood up. “There. That’s clear.” He climbed up on the saucer. “Let’s see if this bitch’ll crank up.” Before he lowered himself inside, he looked at Billy and said, “Help me out?”
“Sure.” He followed Eddie into the ship. “What do you need?”
“Sit down at the controls and hit that red switch when I say so.”
After a few minutes, Eddie called out, “Hit it!” He thumbed the button and felt a vibration as the craft came back to life. At that point, Artie and DeeRay dropped back into the ship.
“What are we gonna do now?” DeeRay asked.
Eddie, who’d just re-entered the control room, said, “We’re gonna take you two home.” When Artie and DeeRay groaned, he said, “We can’t be out in the daylight, we might be seen.” He looked at Artie and said, “We’re gonna have enough trouble explaining the dent in the ship. We don’t need to make any worse.”
“Shit,” Artie exclaimed. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry boys, fun’s over for tonight.”
When Billy woke up, the sun was just coming over the horizon and he was sitting on the deck with a beer in his hand. He looked over and saw DeeRay laid out on the floor beside him, snoring. Vague memories swam through his brain, of a wild night and two strangers named… what were their names? He couldn’t remember. Or maybe it was all a dream. He couldn’t tell. He reached out and kicked DeeRay awake.
“Whu,” his friend mumbled and rolled over.
“Wake up, you lazy fuck,” he said and kicked him again.
“What the fuck, man?” DeeRay said as he sat up. “I was right in the middle of the coolest dream. I was flying this… flying… It’s gone. I can’t remember a god damn bit of it.”
“But it feels like it’s right there? Like you’re right on the edge of remembering?”
“Yeah, how did you know?
“Same for me, man. Only, I’m not sure it was a dream.”
“What do you mean?” DeeRay pulled himself up from the deck and plopped into the chair beside Billy.
“I mean it feels like it actually happened. You know? Like… shit, I can’t say what happened. But it by god feels like something did.” Billy opened the cooler to get a beer. “Son of a bitch. We drank that whole case last night.”
DeeRay dug into his pants. He pulled out a plastic bag that had a few scraps of marijuana remaining. “And, smoked a whole eighth of some primo weed.” He chuckled. “Ain’t no wonder we can’t remember anything. We got fuuuuuuccked up.”
Billy shook his head. “Dude, even you can’t handle all that and I seen you do shit with drugs that ought to be impossible.”
“Billy,” DeeRay said. The tremor in his voice cut through the jackhammer that Billy felt had taken up residence inside his skull. He turned to see his friend pointing at a neatly folded silvery bundle on the table. “What is that?”
Billy stepped over and picked it up. As he did, it unfolded, and they saw it was flight suit. A slip of paper fell out and drifted down to the deck. DeeRay bent down and picked it up.
“Huh, it’s some kind of note.”
“Well,” Billy said, “don’t just stand there like an idiot. What’s it say?”
“Hang on,” DeeRay said as he unfolded it. “Okay, it says, ‘Hey dudes. Thanks for last night. It was a blast. Here’s a little something for you remember us by. (Not that you’ll be able to).’ It’s signed ‘Argbltchyl and Yglchtm (aka Artie and Eddie)’.” He looked at Billy. “What the fuck?”
“Shit if I know, man. But it looks cool, don’t it?”